Stefan Soltesz
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
12 May 2013
Teatro dell’Opera Roma
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cola RienziAndreas Schager
IreneManuela Uhl
Steffano ColonnaRoman Astakhov
AdrianoAngela Denoke
Paolo OrsiniLjubomir Puškarić
RaimondoMilcho Borovinov
BaroncelliMartin Homrich
Cecco del VecchioJean Luc Ballestra
FriedensboteHannah Bradbury
Opera News

In one of the essays published in the 200-page program for Rome Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Rienzi (seen May 18), the Italian scholar Franco Serpa enthuses over the letter Wagner wrote to tenor Albert Niemann in 1859, when the latter was studying the title role. He doesn’t, however, quote from the letter itself, which speaks eloquently of the character’s “sublime calm and dignity” and of the “genuine seriousness and profound sympathy with the part” that he expected of the interpreter. This was probably for the best, for these qualities were hardly evident in the Rienzi played by Andreas Schager. The blame should not be attributed to the forty-two-year-old Austrian tenor, who performed the exhausting role valiantly — although the effort that it cost him to sustain the trumpety declamation left him sounding somewhat juddery in moments of repose — but to director/designer Hugo De Ana, who decided to interpret the idealism and eloquence that inspired Wagner in the medieval Roman tribune as the empty rhetoric of a mere poseur.
There is no doubt that De Ana succeeded in his intent, with the result that the music of Wagner’s little-known third opera — which undeniably leans towards bombast at times — was emptied of its fiery sincerity. De Ana, in an interview, compared Rienzi to Mussolini, while the words and music associated with the character speak more truly of the revolutionary zeal that was to take possession of the composer seven years after the opera had its premiere in Dresden in 1842.
This shifting of emphasis somewhat neutralized the ambiguity of Adriano, the aristocrat who loves Rienzi’s sister but turns against the father out of thirst for revenge. Angela Denoke sang the trouser role with considerable grace, if without the sturdy chest register that one associates with what is usually considered a mezzo role. Denoke made as much sense of the character as was possible in this context. Manuela Uhl proved truly enchanting as Adriano’s beloved Irene, phrasing with that combination of fervor and inner strength that Wagner’s music thrives on and ascending above the staff with unflinching ease and beauty of tone.
This achievement was all the more remarkable because conductor Stefan Soltesz made little effort to maintain an appropriate sonic balance between stage and pit (the lower voices were often drowned out), and De Ana’s deep sets — effective enough in suggesting a Rome haunted by its imperial past — did not facilitate the projection of the voices. The atmosphere was also undermined somewhat by De Ana’s fondness for dressing his characters in leather pants, thus adding a tawdry touch of kinkiness to the medieval setting.
While none of the secondary singers made much of their (admittedly underdefined) roles, the Rome Opera Chorus, trained by Roberto Gabbiani, performed formidably throughout, with the sopranos coping impeccably with their high-lying melodic lines. The orchestral playing was generally accurate but also excessively loud and none too specific in coloration. The long evening was shortened by cuts in the pantomime and celebratory ballet in Act II. spacer STEPHEN HASTINGS


As a young man, Wagner seems to have been politically naïve, confused and convinced. What is interesting is that all three vices matured to produce what is unquestionably some of the greatest operatic masterpieces in the business. Is there anywhere in Western cultural history such a striking instance of wrong-headednes being the parent of such creativity? (I say Western advisedly; my Taoist orientated friends would just smile knowingly.) And there the trinity of vices are, flashing their beacon in Rienzi, when Richard Wagner was only in his mid twenties.
Wagner thought big right from the start. Rienzi, which is in five acts, has a running time of five hours, before you add in whatever is required in intervals. Cuts are inevitable. The Rome Opera got it down to three hours, twenty minutes including two twenty-five minute intervals. A leading orchestra player told me that my guesstimate of 50% cuts was near the mark. So the theatre had been generous in their use of the waste paper basket. But it turned out they were not generous enough. And worse, they hadn’t made the right cuts. I last saw Rienzi in this same theatre in 1969 – forty-four years ago. I recall a ballet scene with some unoriginal, yet very effective music (the only time aside from Tannhäuser when Wagner wrote ballet music). That was cut for the present performance. Almost all of Irene’s music was cut. But that turned out to be a merciful release for her as well as us, as I shall explain in a minute. The best that can be said about Andreas Schager in the title role is that he looked great when he unbuttoned his shirt to be burned to death in the final scene. Are they casting tenors with the same criteria they use for Olympic swimmers these days?
Truth is that Mr Schager was magnificent in the many tableaux vivant which were the prominent feature of the staging of Hugo de Ana (stage director, sets and costumes). See photo. Had Mr de Ana taken over the duties of casting director? That is how it looked and sounded. The composer’s contribution to the evening had somewhat been assigned to the back burner. You may be sure that any de Ana staging will be as traditional as teatime at the London Ritz Hotel. Nothing wrong with that either. The projections of sculptures and Latin texts underlined an apt respect for history. All rightly dignified. I was unable myself to pick up the references to Mussolini and Hitler, which in an interview printed in the programme, Mr de Ana tells us was part of his inspiration.
Stefan Soltesz was an ideal conductor, ever mindful of Wagner’s engagement with naivety and conviction. His tempi were ideal in every scene and especially in the lengthy overture. He also perfectly judged every dynamic level and was careful never to cover the very small voices of the three leading singers. Pier Miranda Ferraro had sung Rienzi in the 1969 staging. That tenor was best known for his performances of Verdi’s Otello. In a word, this was a tenor with muscle in his voice. Mr Schager’s excellent muscles are in his chest, as I’ve said. There were moments (and many of them) when his voice could be scarcely heard, even with the conductor’s considerate accompaniments. If we could have had the visuals without the aurals, the hint might have worked.
The two women fared no better, Manuela Uhl as Irene and Angela Denoke as Adriano. Ms Denoke opened up on her big third act aria and even got a meagre round of applause for it –one of the rare audience positive responses of the evening. They all three had a tendency to snatch at notes rather than singing them. And they were seriously underpowered, calling forth a comment from a colleague in the Italian music press at the second interval: What we have here is not three voices, but three dogs.
The chorus, as the Populace of Rome, can easily become the protagonist in Rienzi and given the weaknesses of the three principals, this is what happened here. Roberto Gabbiani had prepared them magnificently and they too benefitted from de Ana’s tableaux. See photo. They are required to sing with haunting mysticism (some of the off-stage singing was particularly effective) as well as stirring, unflinching patriotism. Both were among the most moving moments of the show. Wagner would have liked that.

Jack Buckley

GBOpera Magazine

Spettacolo allestito dal teatro dell’Opera di Roma in occasione del bicentenario della nascita del compositore. Assai interessante la scelta di un titolo così desueto, rappresentato nelle precedenti stagioni una sola volta nel 1969, nonostante la vicenda sia così fortemente legata alla storia di Roma e la musica che la narra, oltre ad essere godibile sia pure nelle ipertrofiche dimensioni del grand opéra, contenga moltissimi elementi utili per la comprensione sia del momento culturale in cui fu concepita che dei futuri sviluppi dell’arte wagneriana. Viene proposta in versione non integrale con l’eliminazione dei ballabili e con alcuni tagli che tuttavia non alterano la coerenza dello svolgimento della già lunga vicenda, rendendone più godibile l’ascolto e probabilmente meno inutilmente gravosa l’esecuzione. E proprio in una prospettiva storica si colloca la lettura del direttore Stefan Soltesz, che spedita, essenziale, priva di enfasi ma sempre molto attenta a sottolineare le gradi arcate melodiche che la pervadono, sottrae questa partitura e più in generale la musica di Wagner alle polemiche che spesso la accompagnano tra detrattori e fanatici estimatori, consentendo finalmente di valutarla ed apprezzarla per il suo intrinseco valore musicale senza attribuirle altri significati che, oltre forse a non appartenerle completamente, di certo non ne inficiano il valore artistico e l’ indiscutibile interesse culturale. Molto buona la impegnativa prova dell’orchestra del Teatro sensibilmente migliorata per quanto riguarda la qualità e la cura del suono. Ottimo il coro anche esso impegnato con successo in un evidente lungo ed accurato lavoro di preparazione musicale e scenica. Nel ruolo eponimo il tenore Andreas Schager viene a capo della lunga e impegnativa parte con voce ampia e autorevole, restituendoci la complessità del personaggio nei suoi vari aspetti e giungendo all’aria dell’ultimo atto senza apparenti segni di fatica vocale e con intensa partecipazione, raccogliendo un meritato applauso. Efficace l’Irene di Manuela Uhl per resa vocale, musicalità e intenzioni interpretative. Assai brava Angela Denoke nel ruolo di Adriano sia sotto il profilo vocale che scenico anche se nell’aria, cantata con molta partecipazione, ha mostrato qualche suono un po’ fisso. Nel complesso tutti su un livello assai buono gli interpreti delle parti maschili secondarie:Roman Astakov (Stefano Colonna), Ljubomir Puskaric (Paolo Orsini), Martin Homrich (Baroncelli), Jean Luc Balestra (Cecco del Vecchio) e, forse con un volume in qualche frase non sempre adeguato, Milcho Borovinov nella parte di Raimondo. Molto ben cantata la parte dell’Ambasciatore di pace da Hannah Bradbury.
La regia le scene ed i costumi erano affidati a Hugo de Ana, il quale colloca la vicenda in una Roma decadente bellissima e elegantissima a vedersi, non ricostruita nei luoghi esatti del libretto ma chiaramente evocata, almeno per i romani, dalla ricostruzione di alcuni elementi architettonici imponenti ma essenziali allo stesso tempo quali il portone del Pantheon, i Fori, la colonna Traiana, i sampietrini della pavimentazione e le statue equestri che sebbene non chiaramente identificabili risultavano inequivocabilmente romane. Anche i costumi rimandavano ad un generico passato nel quale si legge lo scorrere della storia della città dal medioevo al tempo del compositore, anche in questo caso con l’evidente intento, in linea con la lettura musicale, di rendere universale ed al di fuori del tempo la vicenda umana di Cola di Rienzo pur legandola intimamente alla città nella quale si è svolta. Tale chiave di lettura a nostro giudizio ha avuto il non piccolo merito di aver offerto al pubblico, oltre ad uno spettacolo di grande bellezza visiva ed efficacia teatrale, la possibilità di avvicinarsi a questa partitura, della quale è impossibile non ricordare fra l’altro che il manoscritto originale bruciò nel bunker di Hitler alla fine della seconda guerra mondiale, in maniera libera da strumentalizzazioni ideologiche di qualsivoglia segno. Splendidi infine i movimenti di scena ed i mutamenti del ritmo della recitazione sempre attuati all’interno del discorso musicale a sottolinearne con appropriatezza gli aspetti più salienti, senza mai creare dissonanze o conflitti. Unico aspetto che abbiamo trovato un pò distraente è stata la proiezione del testo che si compone progressivamente nelle lettere e poi nelle parole durante la sinfonia. Per chi sa il latino, e probabilmente non solo, l’attenzione era nel complesso più volta ad indovinare il significato di quanto andava gradatamente a formarsi sul sipario piuttosto che a seguire il filo del discorso musicale oltretutto di uno dei momenti più belli e celebri di quest’opera. Molto interessante ed accurata la realizzazione del programma di sala, assai utile per accostarsi ad un titolo di così infrequente ascolto almeno in Italia e comunque, va detto, godibile anche senza troppe spiegazioni e commenti. Alla fine grande successo con lunghi e meritati applausi per tutti.

User Rating
Media Type/Label
HO 656300
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 390 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by Hugo de Ana